Sixty-five years ago a packed cinema was demolished by German bombers in the worst loss of life from a single air raid in Sussex.

Scores of children, adults and service personnel were buried under the rubble of the Whitehall Cinema while fires raged all around.

To honour the 108 people who died and hundreds more who were injured, East Grinstead Town Council plans to provide a memorial plaque. Using interviews with survivors compiled by the late historian Len Griffiths, reporter Jessica Bauldry winds back the clock to 5.17pm on July 9, 1943, when the bombs fell.

Daphne Archer was sitting at the cashier's desk in a shop in London Road when she heard aircraft overhead.

The air raid siren had sounded minutes earlier but people still milled about the street, believing it was just another false alarm.

As the aircraft swooped in, the cashier was violently ejected over the top of her desk, together with coins from the till.

The front panels of the shop windows shattered, shearing off the back of her blouse. As she began to push herself up off the floor she was immediately thrown back by a soldier seconds before machine gun bullets smashed into the front of the building.

Some came into the entrance, hitting the soldier as blood poured from his shirt and he collapsed.

So began the horrific events of July 9, 1943, when a handful of Dornier 217 aircraft bombed the quiet market town. The bombs reportedly shattered every shop window in the London Road from the post office to the High Street.

The streets were littered with bodies maimed by shrapnel or caught by machine gun fire as the aircraft returned for a second pop at their target.

But the biggest tragedy was yet to be discovered.

As a cloud of powdered brick from bombed masonry settled in the road, a gap appeared in the roof of the Whitehall cinema.

About 60 children and 140 adults had flocked to the theatre that day for the Hopalong Cassidy cowboy film.

The bombers scored a direct hit on the cheap seats at the front of the half-full auditorium, where many of the youngsters sat. John Parsons remembered hearing a cracking sound above him as daylight appeared through the roof. He was among the first to move, dropping to the floor and scrambling along the front row towards the exit.

There was a sudden rush toward the left exit of the cinema.

Some moved under their seats or stayed where they were because they had been told not to panic. As children and adults frantically scrambled to get out, survivors described the moment when the auditorium "disappeared in a flash". A terrible sulphurous "wet cardboard" smell and an all-enveloping dust fell around them.

Many screamed in absolute terror and desperation as they tried to escape. There was a second flash as the second bomb exploded after which those inside the cinema described feeling like they were "buried in a very hot vacuum".

Survivor Bert Dann blacked out after the first bomb exploded. When he came to he heard more screaming. Nearby a completely naked woman smothered in dark grey powder was crouching, rocking herself backwards and forwards.

Those who stayed in their seats were seared by the flash or peppered with shrapnel and then engulfed by pillars and masonry which crashed down on them.

East Grinstead was of no strategic importance in military terms and it remains a mystery why it was bombed. At the time the Germans reported having hit Tunbridge Wells.

The rescue operation spanned several days though few survivors were pulled from the rubble after the first night. It saw buses used as makeshift ambulances and the nearby Queen Victoria Hospital inundated with casualties.

Altogether 108 people died in the bombing, a third of them children, and 235 were maimed. Many were buried in a mass grave at Mount Noddy.

East Grinstead Society president Michael Leppard said: "It was a massive tragedy and had a huge impact on the town, which is still not forgotten.

Everybody in the town would have known someone who died or was seriously injured."

As a fitting tribute the town hopes to raise £850 for a permanent memorial.

Donations can be sent to Martin Duckworth at East Grinstead Town Hall, East Court, East Grinstead.

Were you - or someone you know - a survivor of that terrible day? Tell us below.